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Israel, Palestine still at odds over borders

By Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-22 08:25

Israel will not bow to Palestinians' demands on the borders of their future state before peace talks begin, but it will meet their request for the release of some prisoners, Israeli officials said on Saturday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the two sides had laid the groundwork to resume talks after an almost three-year stalemate, but that the deal was not final and required more diplomacy.

Remarks made on Saturday by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, however, suggest the sides still face major stumbling blocks before negotiations can resume.

Yaalon said Israel "had insisted it would enter negotiations with no preconditions which included the Palestinian demand on the 1967 borders ... and that is exactly what is happening now".

The Palestinians say the talks must be about establishing a future state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, with borders approximating the boundaries that existed before Israel captured those territories in a 1967 war.

Steinitz said there had been no Israeli concession on that point, nor on the Palestinian demand that Israel halt all construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

A senior Palestinian official with knowledge of the talks suggested the Palestinians would not back down. "Our position remains clear: Resumption of negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and on the 1967 borders."

Kerry said that the deal between Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations was still being "formalized" but that negotiators for both sides could begin talks in Washington "within the next week or so".

In his first public comments since Kerry's announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the apparent progress but did not indicate what steps, if any, Israel would take to ensure that the talks resume.

Palestinians have also long demanded that Israel free prisoners held since before 1993, when the two sides signed the Oslo Accords.

"In all meetings held by President Mahmoud Abbas with minister Kerry and others, the Palestinian demand to release the prisoners topped the agenda," said Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdaineh. "Freeing prisoners is a Palestinian priority that should precede any agreement.

Reuters

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